For the holidays, scientists at Cambridge University have developed a robotic hand that can play "Jingle Bells" on the piano.
In a video recently released on YouTube, the team showed off their creation, which can play simple musical phrases on the piano by moving not its fingers, but its wrist. The experiment, according to the team, demonstrates how challenging it is for a machine to replicate the complex movements that human hands are capable of.
Details about the project were published in the journal Science Robotics.
Making A Robotic Hand That Can Play The Piano
While there have been a couple of other attempts to create a robot that can play the piano, this experiment from the scientists at the University of Cambridge is quite different. It used 3D printing to integrate polymers that are hard and soft to mimic the bones and the ligaments of a real human hand.
To move, the scientists explained that the robotic hand plays notes through "passive" dynamics, meaning there is no movement below the wrist level. The robotic hand is attached to a standard robotic arm to drive its movements.
When attached to a piano, the robotic hand was able to play piano music in different styles, from recognizable pieces by famous composers to the seasonal holiday song.
"We can use passivity to achieve a wide range of movement in robots: walking, swimming or flying, for example," explained Josie Hughes, the first author of the paper. "Smart mechanical design enables us to achieve the maximum range of movement with minimal control costs: we wanted to see just how much movement we could get with mechanics alone."
Learning About The Human Body With Robots
The team explained that the goal of the project was to understand the smart mechanical designs of the human body that help "behave intelligently" outside the active control of the brain. From their robotic hand, they were able to explore the importance of physical designs.
The scientists hope that, despite their robotic hand's limitations, their approach can help improve designs for prosthetics or used for automated processes in manufacturing.
Watch the robotic hand spread holiday cheer below.